The Mechanization of Farming

In PEI’s early years, agricultural societies were set up to promote new farming practices, breeds, and products.10. In 1901, these groups were phased out and replaced by the first official governmental Department of Agriculture.11. The fact that this occurred shortly before the beginning of the Green revolution is coincidental, but not unrelated to the future direction that agriculture was to take. Over the next 60 years, farming would change from a necessary pursuit for most, powered by men and horses to the profession of a few, driven by machines and “inputs”. The change in lot 64 would be gradual, but would end up being just as extensive as it was elsewhere.

Throughout the first two decades of the century, not much changed. Farms were still small in lot 64, with a broad mix of animals and crops that kept most people well fed, and gave them a few extra dollars to buy the things that the farm couldn’t provide. The most important part of the farm was still the horse, or horses, that provided transportation, labour, and companionship to their owners. The machinery that the horses would pull was usually made by a local metalworker, blacksmith or carriage-maker. And the only things the family had to fertilize crops with were lobsters, mussel mud, seaweed, and manure, all of which were locally available.

It was after WW1 that change really started to take hold, and the changes would bring costs as well as benefits. Ray Brooks of Murray Harbour remembered getting their first farm tractor; it was a red Massey-Harris that was delivered shortly before the end of the war (he doesn't say which war). “I had awful sore feet”, he recalled, “I had an awful job following horses, so the tractor was quite a help”.12. He also recalled the new insecticides he used in his early years on the farm. The first was called Paris Green, and was a combination of copper acetate and arsenic trioxide13.; Ray didn’t think it was overly effective (although he recollects that his father helped it stick better by mixing it with flour before they sprinkled it on the plants, so maybe it was more effective for them than it was for most!), and was toxic to the plants when too much was applied, so it eventually fell out of favour. Its replacement was a bluestone, lime, lead and arsenic mixture, which was less toxic to the plants themselves, but had the disadvantage of leaving an arsenic residue that was hard to remove.14. Finally, after WWII they started to market highly effective, highly toxic DDT. The farmers who used it had no idea that it had such a terrible ecological effect. When asked about whether there were more birds around in his childhood, Ray said,

Oh everything was just…I wish I had a record of the.. when I’d wake up in the morning with the window open (ha) of the birds. There’s no birds now! ... See everything was poisoned with that DDT. See we had an awful lot of that Hungarian partridge and that, after the DDT they disappeared too, and they, they used to eat the bugs... I suppose the bugs were full of DDT. I don’t think there’s any, I don’t know of any Hungarian partridge now.

While DDT may have been a factor, there were likely other factors contributing to the decline in the partridge population; the introduction of new predators (like coyotes, and egg eating raccoons), habitat loss, and even hunting.

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